How to Address Potential Barriers Facing Youth Volunteers

Enhancing youth volunteer engagement means giving due consideration to the specific needs of a younger generation. Adolescents’ lived experiences will greatly shape their desires, interests and expectations for volunteering, and as such, what they need to volunteer successfully will differ from adults.

Below is a list of barriers your organization may encounter when engaging with youth:


Barriers Challenges Opportunities
Organization Focus Unsure how to engage youth volunteers. Organizations may struggle to create roles for youth volunteers if their target population, programs and services are not youth-focused or if there is no previous experience working with student volunteers. Look for examples. Looking to organizations that are youth-led, youth-focused or have successful youth volunteer programs can give your not-for-profit a good starting point. For example, Apathy is Boring and Pledges for Change are both youth-led organizations that engage youth in a variety of ways.
Availability Limited roles available for youth volunteers. Roles which require driver’s licenses, specific certificates and long-term commitments are not always opportune for young people. Design with youth in mind. Re-evaluate and streamline your existing volunteer roles to see if they can be adapted to youth or if there are organizational needs and projects that could be used to create new positions that are accessible and exciting for young people.
Capacity Not-for-profits operate within tight constraints on budgets, time and resources. Designing youth volunteer programs and roles may be challenging if the time, energy and mental health of staff and existing volunteers are already stretched thin. Keep volunteer engagement simple. Accommodating youth volunteers does not need to be complicated. Strategies such as developing new volunteer screening guidelines or using your social media as an engagement tool can yield success.
School & Rules Youth are subject to more limits and restrictions than adults. Schools and parents all have a say in how youth interact with society. This can make it difficult for youth to access traditional volunteer activities. Create Positions suited to their needs. Projects and timelines should take into consideration the availability and commitments of youth to make your opportunities more attractive. For example:

  1. Let a volunteer come to the office in their everyday clothes.
  2. Let them work together to come up with unconventional and creative ideas for producing results.
  3. It’s important to recognize youth volunteer’s availability outside of office hours.
                   Awareness Youth are not aware of potential volunteering opportunities. Youth often have limited access to support and information about volunteering from guidance counselors and schools. Go where the young people are.  Advertise your opportunities through VO as well as social media with the help of eye-catching graphics and hashtags. Provide key information by answering the following questions about your opportunity: what, when, why, where and how.


 Screening Longer screening processes can turn youth away from opportunities. Volunteer roles that have lengthier matching times due to police record checks, resumes, references, interviews, and additional trainings may limit your youth volunteer pool. Is it needed? Re-evaluating existing screening processes for specific roles is a clever way to determine what is necessary and what is not. This cuts down on the work for both applicants and staff.

  1. Instead of a police record check, consider a signed agreement between your organization the youth volunteer and their guardian.
  2. Get creative with how youth volunteers can apply to your organization. For example, video resumes can get youth excited about the process and give organizations a better sense of potential candidates.
Language Barriers Students may not speak English or French as their first language. Language barriers may turn some youth away from applying for positions because of a lack of confidence in their writing and oral skills. Practice patience and encouragement. Provide opportunities for them to practice their language skills. If there is someone in your organization that speaks the same language offer them as a mentor to help newer youth volunteers feel comfortable.
Retention Youth volunteer retention presents specific challenges. Young people may be available for short-term commitments, have limited time or are only volunteering to complete their community involvement hours. Accommodate. Consider adjusting your opportunities to fit the school year. This may mean more short-term positions during the winter and long-term positions during the summer.
Maturity Organizations may assume youth are not mature enough. An organization may be reluctant to give roles to youth that requires more responsibility for fear that the job will be performed inadequately or be left incomplete. Work with youth in good faith. Create a volunteering environment that uses a cycle of learning, assessment and growth. Be clear about your expectations and provide support, feedback and recognition to youth volunteers. Refine your organizational approach to youth volunteer engagement by continuing to evaluate what has worked and what has not. Ask for feedback from your youth volunteers.